MP3 track of the day: Shut up and drive – Rihanna
Weather: Overcast, making it really pleasant to walk around.
I woke up today with a plan. As this was my last full day here in Chang-Mai (well, unless I book another night) I needed to book accommodation in Chang-Rai, my next stop, plus walk to the bus station to find out ticket prices. Then I decided that I needed to look at the next leg of my journey, up until I started my voluntary work in Cambodia (February the 19th). This plan came to an abrupt end soon after I had got up; I headed downstairs and in front of me “... free trip to see tribes new years celebration...” was written upon the activity blackboard.
Sounds interesting I thought and so I signed up. Before leaving I had time to read two Facebook messages stating that Anna (a friend from Georgetown) was in Chang-Mai and that Rachael and Matt (the couple I met in Krabi) were in Chang-Rai, my next stop. So the good thing was that I had old friends, all heading the same way as I, all around me; the problem was that I didn't know where any of them where staying, how long for and if it is was possible to meet up. It would be good to cross the Laos border with friends. Anyway for now I didn't have time to think about that; the van to the tribes new year celebrations was outside and so I quickly grabbed a bottle of water and headed out to join another five travelers.
The ride was pleasant to start with; we went past my current favorite cake shop and headed out of town. The ride started to get less pleasant when the tarmac was suddenly removed from the road and we headed up into the hills. It took about thirty minutes to arrive at the top of a hill where we parked our van. We all got off and walked down the other side of the hill following the sound of loud music. Being overcast today the weather was lovely and cool and walking was a joy; as we walked further we saw a local having trouble moving his 4x4 off the side of a hill. Now I would like to say that it was my idea to help him, however that would be lying. A Canadian in our group said that we should help him and we did so; we pushed his vehicle but the rear-left wheel was just spinning in mid-air. It took for him to reverse down the hill slightly before we could get him out. The driver shook our hands to say thank you.
As we continued walking down the hill I seemed to have adopted a little child who kept grabbing my hand and wanting to walk with me; now I didn't mind but I was wondering where his parents where. I have to admit that he was starting to get a little annoying due to the fact that he walked quite slowly and I was loosing the group; it all got a little too much when he started hitting my bag with his 'spinning top' stick.
I managed to loose the infant and join up with the group again. All around us where tribes people dressed in costumes to celebrate the new year. Noom, our hostel owner, explained to us that the hill tribes believe that today, the 8th January, is the new year. All the hill tribes meet up for a weeks long celebration within the area that I found myself in. You could tell the different tribes from their slightly different costume styles and everyone seemed to be having fun. It was weird to see 'Red Bull' logos plastered everywhere which made me wonder if they sponsored this local event. Activities for the day included a push-cart race which immediately reminded me of 'Cool Runnings' and I wondered is Sanka was taking part … with his lucky egg. We where stood near to the finish line with a pond to our backs and a line of single used car tires in front of us … this would never pass FIA health and safety I thought, and so F1 coming to the mountains of Chang-Mai would be postponed for another year. My adopted child had, somehow, found me once more and so it was time to move on.
We headed up another hill to have a look at the stalls and see what the local tribes people where up to. First of all I found myself in a large open area with a stage in front of me and stalls to the left-hand side. Just off to the right of the open area I saw boys throwing balls to a girls, who would then catch said ball and return it. Noom told me that this was a kind of courting ritual where the guy asks the girl to play catch whilst they talk, hopefully leading onto becoming a couple.
We continued up the hill to see two teams of men, within a cordoned off area, holding huge spinning tops; they where just about to start a game. The rules seemed pretty simple, one member of the defending team span their spinning top within a marked circle, one member of the attacking team launched his spinning top from behind a line, five meters away from the circle, hoping to knock the defenders spinning top out of said circle. If the attacker missed then nothing else happened and team members would change. If the attacker knocked the defenders spinning top out of the circle then both players would rush off to their tops and try to keep them spinning the longest. If the defender kept his spinning top spinning the longest then team members changed; if the attacker kept his spinning top spinning longer then the attacking team would score one point and team members would change. Only the attacking team could score points and so the teams switched roles once all players had played.
We didn't have time to watch the teams switch as the kart race was about to start, however these guys where good at knocking each others tops though it did seem that to score a point you have to be quite lucky. It was also taken a little seriously with a ref and one team member checking the other teams spinning tops, paying close attention to the bottom of the top.
When we got back down to the finish line I had something to eat. The meal, I had to say, was the dodgiest I had eaten so far within my trip as the tribe lady pick up the food with her hands and put it in my bowl; it was all okay as she ladled in a steaming hot brew into the bowl however I didn't like the look of the meat so I left it … for only fifteen baht it was fine.
The race started with the first kart crossing the line, who I thought had won. It soon became apparent that after the next three karts came down on their own that this was a timed race, which was a little disappointing for the spectators. I asked Zoom why they didn't race together and he said it was because last year they had a few broken arms and legs … justified I thought.
I had no idea who had won, however after the racing had finished it seemed everyone headed home and we did too. As we had walked down a hill to get here we had to walk up said hill to get back; the walk seemed a hell of a lot further than coming, however we did have to dodge scooters and cars that were also bidding for road space. We eventually made it back to our transport and soon we where back at our hostel.
It was now 2:30pm and so I headed inside to start on the jobs I had intended on doing this morning. I decided that it was easier to look at my trip from the 19th February backwards:
Saturday 19th February – arrive for Voluntary work, Phnom Penh
Monday 14th February – arrive Phnom Penh for five nights to have a look around and revise my English notes
Wednesday 9th February – arrive by plane (need to check flights) from Laos to Siem Reap to have a look around Ankor Wat for five nights
Tuesday 8th February – get to Pakxe to take flight tomorrow.
Friday 4th February – Arrive Vientiane for four nights
Tuesday 1st February – Arrive Vang Viang for three nights (it's supposed to be beautiful however it's also supposed to be full of tourists getting drunk, hence why I don't want to stay long … oh and it's close to 'the plain of Jars' which I want to visit)
Wednesday 26th January – Arrive Louang Phabang for six nights
Monday 24th January – Arrive from Chang-Rai to take the two-day slow boat to Louang Phabang
As you can see there are still two weeks between where the above schedule starts and the present day meaning that I have bags of time to leisurely look around the north part of Thailand and, if I enter Laos early, to be a little more flexible … I liked that and so I immediately booked another night here in Chang-Mai.
Next I went back onto Facebook to see if Anna or Matt and Rachael had messaged me back. Anna had told me that she had left Chang-Mai today to go to Pai (what an effect I have on women)and that, if I got her message before 12:30 (which I didn't), I could join her on the bus. I messaged her back and said for her to let me know where she is staying in Pai and that I might go to Pai to meet up with her. No message from Matt and Rachael but hopefully tonight I'll get an answer.
I then looked at how much the flight might cost from Pakxe to Siem Reap and was shocked to see that it might cost $180.00 USD … it might be that I go overland, and fight with the Cambodian border guards, after all for that price. The rest of the evening was spent eating and watching films before having an early night.
So here I am, one set of friends in Chang-Rai another in Pai. I'm in the same situation that I was twenty-four hours ago, I still don't know where to go but tomorrow I will have made a decision … promise.